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How To Build A SaaS PPC Campaign That’s Built To Last

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How To Build A SaaS PPC Campaign That's Built To Last

What makes a great SaaS PPC campaign – or at the very least, what will make a SaaS PPC campaign just a little bit better?

In other words, what makes a SaaS PPC campaign built to last?

As I was thinking about this recently, it occurred to me that nearly all the client PPC spend that I was fortunate enough to manage in 2022 was SaaS related, and the answers to this question were right under my nose.

After analyzing my campaigns, there were a small handful of items that really seemed to stand out.

These are the most important principles and strategies that contributed to the SaaS PPC campaigns I manage, which I believe are built to last.

Conversion Window

I wanted to start by bringing attention to the conversion action conversion window because this can be an overlooked part of the setup for SaaS PPC accounts.

Screenshot from Google Ads, February 2023

(Find the conversion window for your conversion actions by going to Tools & Settings > Measurement > Conversion. Then click on a Conversion Action > Click Edit Settings.)

Many industries can go from ad click to paying customers in a few days, hours, or even minutes – but SaaS products can easily take 30 to 90 days or longer.

If you want to make sure your campaigns are receiving credit for every conversion that they earn, you will want to tweak the conversion window to make sure it is long enough to capture all conversions that result from your search and/or display campaigns, over the entirety of the average customer sales cycle.

While the default click conversion window for all new conversion actions in Google Ads is 30 days, you can manually set the attribution window for anywhere from 1 to 90 days.

You can also set the window for Engaged-view and view-through conversions as well.

Considering the average sales cycle for SaaS companies is 84 days, it’s important that you are not missing the opportunity to register all the conversions that your campaigns deserve.

Offline Conversion Tracking Setup

When discussing what can be done to improve PPC outcomes, conversion tracking is often at the top of the list.

While this is certainly true when it comes to B2B SaaS, there is one form of conversion tracking that could be the most important of all: offline conversion tracking (OCT).

Unless your SaaS business has a short, relatively simple sales cycle that is completed online from beginning to end, it’s highly likely that you will be unable to fully track a customer journey – from the first ad click to the moment they become a paying customer – without setting up OCT in your ad account.

Uploading data about all the conversions that were achieved offline (like the signing of a contract that turned a sales lead into an actual paying customer) allows Google Ads to complete the circle of the customer journey by appending the offline conversions to all the customer data that was gathered during the online portion of the sales cycle for that specific user.

As the algorithms in your account get more information about these offline conversions, your campaigns will become increasingly optimized, bid more effectively for high-value clicks, and produce more paying customers – and do this all with a lower cost per acquisition than you could have ever achieved without OCT.

There is a lot to know about setting up OCT, but if you would like to know more you can check out How To Track Offline Conversions From Your Google Ads by Tim Jensen.

Seasonality – Not Just The Weather

As SaaS companies are, by definition, selling software products, you may not consider seasonality a big factor. And when it comes to the physical changing of the weather, that might still hold true.

However, I found that “seasonality” can be a lot more than just changing weather and holiday shopping.

If you research the industry your SaaS product serves and look at past campaign data with a macro lens, you are likely to find numerous times throughout the year that your campaign data will spike or fall on a fairly consistent basis.

Some common “seasonality” that may affect your campaigns in positive or negative ways are:

Fiscal Year Schedules

The vast majority of businesses have the first day of their fiscal year on October 1 or January 1.

Many companies will be looking for new SaaS options around this time as they develop department budgets for the upcoming year.

Not only will businesses likely have a renewed budget, but your competitors might be spending significantly more or less on their marketing efforts near the end of their own fiscal year.

This can make your marketing costs go up if your competitor is frantically trying to spend their full budget by the end of the year.

Or possibly even provide an opportunity for cheaper conversions if your biggest competitor pulls way back on marketing spend near the end of the year so they don’t overspend on their yearly marketing budget.

Industry Trade Events & Publications

Do you run the marketing for a SaaS product that is popular among a specific industry that has a big, national conference every summer?

Maybe your product is popular among teachers, so you see a spike in searches every August and September as school districts assess their needs.

What about IT products? I personally know that every year, thousands of IT professionals put their searching and planning for new software on hold for the week or two that precede the annual release of the Gartner: Magic Quadrant report, which independently tests and rates IT security SaaS products.

Two weeks a year, I am struggling just to get clicks. But then, in the span of a one-day search, volume explodes with new prospects searching for the IT products at the top of the ratings.

Annual Product Releases

It has become trendy for the biggest players in each industry to put on huge conferences or product release events that get consumers excited about the releases planned for that year.

If your SaaS product serves one of these markets, you will likely see a spike in searches and clicks around these events, because people are excited and motivated by what they are seeing.

Or, you may see search volume fall, because all your potential customers aren’t concerned with anything except for the big event.

Either way, if you are in the B2B SaaS marketing game, you will likely find similar periods, every year, that end up being so predictable, they might as well be actual, “seasonal” events.

If you plan ahead for whatever market conditions are likely during these “seasons,” you will have a much easier time hitting your client’s goals on time and on budget.

Go Negative

Have you ever heard of the power of positive thinking?

Well, sometimes there is serious power in going negative!

When it comes to PPC for SaaS, going negative can save you buckets of money on irrelevant clicks, poor-quality leads, and a lot of downright fraud.

Not only that, but if your account is full of bad clicks and poor-quality “conversions,” then the algorithms that rule your campaigns will be fed with bad data.

Worst of all, the algorithms will then compound the problem by going out and finding you more of those horrible clicks – so it’s important to eliminate as much bad spend as possible.

Here are some of the best ways to eliminate destructive spend in your SaaS campaigns:

Basic Search Campaign Maintenance

I know it’s boring, but you need to perform regular keyword maintenance on search campaigns and constantly add new negative keywords for terms that are not converting or are unrelated to your product.

Here’s a quick and easy process to find negative keyword candidates:

  • Choose a 7- to 30-day timeframe, and click Campaign > Keywords > Search Keywords.
  • Sort by Cost, highest to lowest.
  • Click to select the first one to five keywords, then in the blue bar at the top of the list click “Search terms.”
  • This will take you to the Search Terms section of the campaign, but it will automatically be filtered to only show the search terms that came from the search keywords you previously selected.
How To Build A SaaS PPC Campaign That’s Built To LastScreenshot from Google Ads, February 2023

Display Targeting & Placements Exclusions

This is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to bad spend and algorithm corruption.

The more money you spend on Display campaigns, the more necessary it is to consistently review the Placements Report.

When you see a placement that looks like a low-quality or spam site, add it as a Placement Exclusion to your Display campaigns.

How To Build A SaaS PPC Campaign That’s Built To LastScreenshot from Google Ads, February 2023

Question-Related Search Terms

Questions can be a big money drain when it comes to SaaS products.

Unless you have a robust website that is designed with plenty of great information around commonly asked questions related to your product, it will save a lot of money if you add interrogatives – or more commonly called “question words” – to your keyword negatives.

Doing this will keep you from paying expensive search campaign prices in order to answer a user’s questions.

The vast majority of the time, when a user searches with a question word, they are very high in the “funnel” and very unlikely to convert – so if your funds are limited, consider eliminating questions from the keywords that you target.

Here is my favorite list of interrogatives to add as negative keywords to campaigns:

  • if.
  • how.
  • what.
  • when.
  • does.
  • can.
  • why.
  • should.
  • do.
  • which.
  • will.
  • are.
  • did.
  • is.
  • has.

Competitor Campaigns

Bidding on the product names or company names of your direct competitors is not a practice exclusive to the SaaS industry.

However, I have never seen the type of direct competitor warfare, level of spending, time allocation, and grandstanding that you get with SaaS companies and their competitors.

Maybe it’s because there are often dozens of SaaS companies doing the same thing, but there is only room for a few big players.

Maybe it’s because a lot of SaaS companies are in Silicon Valley and there are big egos, with lots of money involved.

Whatever the reason, competitor campaigns are a different beast when it comes to SaaS, and they need to be approached differently than you may approach them in any other industry.

Here are the main takeaways I have found when it comes to targeting SaaS competitors with PPC.

Decide

A mentor of mine once said, “Do or do not.  There is no try.” That mentor was Yoda in “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.” And Yoda could not be more right.

The biggest decision you have to make when it comes to competitor campaigns is whether or not you will even decide to launch one.

You certainly don’t have to, and there are some good reasons to avoid it altogether – like, among other things, putting that money towards other campaigns that will be more efficient and profitable overall.

However, if you decide to create a competitor campaign, where you directly bid on branded, competitor keywords, you need to really understand why you are doing it and what benefit it will give you, and then really commit to providing the resources necessary to achieve the goals you choose.

Break Competitors Into Tiers

In the SaaS industry, going after every competitor you have is a sure way to fail.

It’s usually best to break out one to two competitors that you consider your main competition into a Tier 1 competitor campaign.

Create another campaign for Tier 2 competitors and fill it with three to six other competitors that, while not as big a threat as Tier 1, are still formidable.

Doing this will allow you to adjust how much budget you allot between competitors, and it will allow you more control over the targeting, ad copy, bid strategy, etc., for your two distinct tiers of competitors.

Plan Accordingly

If you decide to join the competitor battle, a little planning can go a long way.

Obviously, you need to first decide how much of your budget you are going to allot to this endeavor.

I generally recommend allotting enough budget to obtain 10-25% of Search Impression Share, or up to 20% of your overall PPC budget – whichever is smaller.

Doing this will give you enough funds to be seen and show your competitors that you are in the fight, but not take too much away from more profitable campaigns.

You will need to plan for a higher cost per action (CPA), lower conversion rate (CVR), and lower keyword quality scores than other campaigns, so adjust your conversion and ROI expectations accordingly.

Be Clever With Ad Copy

While you actually can use competitor names in your search campaign ad copy, those ads will likely end up not being shown as much compared with ads that do not use competitor names.

So, it’s best if you can find a way to refer to your competitor without actually using their company or product name.

Challenge yourself to find a way to allude to your competitor or use well-known competitor brand language instead of directly stating their name.

Is Microsoft one of your main competitors? You can write an ad description line that says, “There’s nothing micro or soft about our solution to cloud database management.”

Not only will this stand out to your potential customers, but it will also drive your competitors crazy!

Always Run A Brand Campaign

While it’s definitely a topic that’s up for debate, I believe you should probably have a paid campaign, of some sort, that targets your own brand terms.

However, if you are going to be targeting your competitors’ brand terms with a campaign, it’s essential that you have a robust brand campaign for your own brand terms.

There are two main reasons for this.

First, you don’t want to leave your own brand vulnerable if you are seen targeting your biggest competitors.

They can, and likely will, create a competitor campaign of their own that targets your brand terms, and you don’t want to make it easy or cheap for them to run that campaign.

Second, a brand campaign is the easiest type of campaign to earn high-quality scores and get the cheapest possible clicks.

In turn, this makes it very difficult for your competitors to get more than a three or four quality score for your brand terms, thus making the clicks they receive quite expensive.

Conclusion

When it comes to PPC, especially PPC for SaaS, there is likely never a perfect solution or perfect decision when you are building and optimizing campaigns.

However, I would encourage you to test at least a few of the ideas mentioned above and find out for yourself if they can help to make your PPC SaaS account built to last.

More Resources:


Featured Image: TierneyMJ/Shutterstock



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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

Google removed the Covid-era structured data associated with the Home Activities rich results that allowed online events to be surfaced in search since August 2020, publishing a mention of the removal in the search documentation changelog.

Home Activities Rich Results

The structured data for the Home Activities rich results allowed providers of online livestreams, pre-recorded events and online events to be findable in Google Search.

The original documentation has been completely removed from the Google Search Central webpages and now redirects to a changelog notation that explains that the Home Activity rich results is no longer available for display.

The original purpose was to allow people to discover things to do from home while in quarantine, particularly online classes and events. Google’s rich results surfaced details of how to watch, description of the activities and registration information.

Providers of online events were required to use Event or Video structured data. Publishers and businesses who have this kind of structured data should be aware that this kind of rich result is no longer surfaced but it’s not necessary to remove the structured data if it’s a burden, it’s not going to hurt anything to publish structured data that isn’t used for rich results.

The changelog for Google’s official documentation explains:

“Removing home activity documentation
What: Removed documentation on home activity structured data.

Why: The home activity feature no longer appears in Google Search results.”

Read more about Google’s Home Activities rich results:

Google Announces Home Activities Rich Results

Read the Wayback Machine’s archive of Google’s original announcement from 2020:

Home activities

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Olga Strel

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Google’s Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

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Google's Gary Illyes: Lastmod Signal Is Binary

In a recent LinkedIn discussion, Gary Illyes, Analyst at Google, revealed that the search engine takes a binary approach when assessing a website’s lastmod signal from sitemaps.

The revelation came as Illyes encouraged website owners to upgrade to WordPress 6.5, which now natively supports the lastmod element in sitemaps.

When Mark Williams-Cook asked if Google has a “reputation system” to gauge how much to trust a site’s reported lastmod dates, Illyes stated, “It’s binary: we either trust it or we don’t.”

No Shades Of Gray For Lastmod

The lastmod tag indicates the date of the most recent significant update to a webpage, helping search engines prioritize crawling and indexing.

Illyes’ response suggests Google doesn’t factor in a website’s history or gradually build trust in the lastmod values being reported.

Google either accepts the lastmod dates provided in a site’s sitemap as accurate, or it disregards them.

This binary approach reinforces the need to implement the lastmod tag correctly and only specify dates when making meaningful changes.

Illyes commends the WordPress developer community for their work on version 6.5, which automatically populates the lastmod field without extra configuration.

Accurate Lastmod Essential For Crawl Prioritization

While convenient for WordPress users, the native lastmod support is only beneficial if Google trusts you’re using it correctly.

Inaccurate lastmod tags could lead to Google ignoring the signal when scheduling crawls.

With Illyes confirming Google’s stance, it shows there’s no room for error when using this tag.

Why SEJ Cares

Understanding how Google acts on lastmod can help ensure Google displays new publish dates in search results when you update your content.

It’s an all-or-nothing situation – if the dates are deemed untrustworthy, the signal could be disregarded sitewide.

With the information revealed by Illyes, you can ensure your implementation follows best practices to the letter.


Featured Image: Danishch/Shutterstock

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

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How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs Evolve

There’s one thing standing between you and several days of SEO, socializing, and Singaporean sunshine: your boss (and their Q4 budget 😅).

But don’t worry—we’ve got your back. Here are 5 arguments (and an example message) you can use to persuade your boss to send you to Ahrefs Evolve.

About Ahrefs Evolve

  • 2 days in sunny Singapore (Oct 24–25)
  • 500 digital marketing enthusiasts
  • 18 top speakers from around the world

Learn more and buy tickets.

SEO is changing at a breakneck pace. Between AI Overviews, Google’s rolling update schedule, their huge API leak, and all the documents released during their antitrust trial, it’s hard to keep up. What works in SEO today?

You could watch a YouTube video or two, maybe even attend an hour-long webinar. Or, much more effective: you could spend two full days learning from a panel of 18 international SEO experts, discussing your takeaways live with other attendees.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve speakers from around the world.

Our world-class speakers are tackling the hardest problems and best opportunities in SEO today. The talk agenda covers topics like:

  • Responding to AI Overviews: Amanda King will teach you how to respond to AI Overviews, Google Gemini, and other AI search functions.
  • Surviving (and thriving) Google’s algo updates: Lily Ray will talk through Google’s recent updates, and share data-driven recommendations for what’s working in search today.
  • Planning for the future of SEO: Bernard Huang will talk through the failures of AI content and the path to better results.

(And attendees will get video recordings of each session, so you can share the knowledge with your teammates too.)

View the full talk agenda here.

There’s no substitute for meeting with influencers, peers, and partners in real life. 

Conferences create serendipity: chance encounters and conversations that can have a huge positive impact on you and your business. By way of example, these are some of the real benefits that have come my way from attending conferences:

  • Conversations that lead to new customers for our business,
  • Invitations to speak at events,
  • New business partnerships and co-marketing opportunities, and
  • Meeting people that we went on to hire.

There’s a “halo” effect that lingers long after the event is over: the people you meet will remember you for longer, think more highly of you, and be more likely to help you out, should you ask.

(And let’s not forget: there’s a lot of information, particularly in SEO, that only gets shared in person.)

The “international” part of Evolve matters too. Evolve is a different crowd to your local run-of-the-mill conference. It’s a chance to meet with people from markets you wouldn’t normally meet—from Australia to Indonesia and beyond.

How to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to AhrefsHow to Persuade Your Boss to Send You to Ahrefs
Evolve attendees by home country.

If you’re an Ahrefs customer (thank you!), you’ll learn tons of tips, tricks and workflow improvements from attending Evolve. You’ll have opportunities to:

  • Attend talks from the Ahrefs team, showcasing advanced features and strategies that you can use in your own business.
  • Pick our brains at the Ahrefs booth, where we’ll offer informal 1:1 coaching sessions and previews of up-coming releases (like our new content optimization tool 🤫).
  • Join dedicated Ahrefs training workshops, hosted by the Ahrefs team and Ahrefs power users (tickets for these workshops will sold separately).

As a manager myself, there are two questions I need answered when approving expenses:

  • Is this a reasonable cost?
  • Will we see a return on this investment?

To answer those questions: early bird tickets for Evolve start at $570. For context, “super early bird” tickets for MozCon (another popular SEO conference) this year were almost twice as much: $999.

There’s a lot included in the ticket price too:

  • World-class international speakers,
  • 5-star hotel venue,
  • 5-star hotel food (two tea breaks with snacks & lunch),
  • Networking afterparty, and
  • Full talk recordings to later share with your team.

SEO is a crucial growth channel for most businesses. If you can improve your company’s SEO performance after attending Evolve (and we think you will), you’ll very easily see a positive return on the investment.

Traveling to tropical Singapore (and eating tons of satay) is great for you, but it’s also great for your team. Attending Evolve is a chance to break with routine, reignite your passion for marketing, and come back to your job reinvigorated.

This would be true for any international conference, but it goes double for Singapore. It’s a truly unique place: an ultra-safe, high-tech city that brings together dozens of different cultures.

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Little India in Singapore

You’ll discover different beliefs, working practices, and ways of business—and if you’re anything like me, come back a richer, wiser person for the experience.

If you’re nervous about pitching your boss on attending Evolve, remember: the worst that can happen is a polite “not this time”, and you’ll find yourself in the same position you are now.

So here goes: take this message template, tweak it to your liking, and send it to your boss over email or Slack… and I’ll see you in Singapore 😉

Email template

Hi [your boss’ name],

Our SEO tool provider, Ahrefs, is holding an SEO and digital marketing conference in Singapore in October. I’d like to attend, and I think it’s in the company’s interest:

  • The talks will help us respond to all the changes happening in SEO today. I’m particularly interested in the talks about AI and recent Google updates. 
  • I can network with my peers. I can discover what’s working at other companies, and explore opportunities for partnerships and co-marketing.
  • I can learn how we can use Ahrefs better across the organization.
  • I’ll come back reinvigorated with new ideas and motivation, and I can share my top takeaways and talk recordings with my team after the event.

Early bird tickets are $570. Given how important SEO is to the growth of our business, I think we’ll easily see a return from the spend.

Can we set up time to chat in more detail? Thanks!

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